FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Maxine Bernard stood by her fiancé's grave. She said she was at peace, and she believes he is finally at peace as well.
“This is a graveyard,” Bernard said. “They talk to you as if it’s parks and recreation.”
We met Bernard last summer. Her fiancé, DeLary Dennis Sr., died from COVID-19 in January 2021. Bernard toured Sunset Memorial Gardens in Fort Lauderdale. She chose and purchased a burial plot, and laid her fiancé to rest.
Liza Linn, meanwhile, told us her father died more than 20 years ago. At the time, she purchased three plots at Sunset and buried her father in one of them. The plan was for Linn and her 96-year-old mother to eventually be laid to rest beside him in the other two plots.
That plan was altered when Linn’s 22-year-old granddaughter suddenly died last June from an unexpected medical condition.
When Linn and her family went to the cemetery to make arrangements for her granddaughter’s burial, they learned Dennis Sr. had been buried in one of her family’s plots.
“And I haven’t heard anything from them from that day to today,” Linn said. “They haven’t called me. They haven’t said they made a mistake. Nothing.”
A city of Fort Lauderdale spokesperson said the city took ownership of Sunset Memorial Gardens a few years ago, and had to navigate “sloppy record-keeping.” The spokesperson acknowledged the mistake and, at the time, said the city was working with both families to find a solution.
In April, Linn said she just happened to be passing by the cemetery and saw crews working at the site.
“So, I swung in there and I see they’re moving it!”
She said she didn’t know if they moved Dennis’s body that day, but she noticed there was dirt covered by wooden planks.
Cemetery workers exhumed and relocated Dennis’s body on April 21. Bernard was there and looked on as her fiancé was buried again, seven months after learning his original plot was improperly sold.
As part of the agreement reached with the city, she also now owns the adjacent burial plot. Hedges will be planted later and his headstone will also be laid. A city spokesperson said everything was agreed to and done at the city’s expense.
The city also said it is adding a step in the plot-buying process for “quality assurance.” There will now be an audit before and after plots are purchased to ensure there are no future discrepancies.
“I’m not happy about it,” said Linn. “But, one thing I’m relieved about is that my family will still be together.”
“I just want to move forward with my family,” said Bernard. “Me and my kids -- and just be at peace.”